William H Harrison

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson

Person interviewed: William H. Harrison

Forrest City, Arkansas

Age: Over 100

"I was born March 4, 1832 in Richmond, Virginia. Master Anderson

Harrison was a cousin to Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-third President

of the United States. Master Anderson Harrison was my owner. I was a

personal attendant of his young son and when I reached manhood I was the

carriage boy. I did all the driving on all the trips the young people of

the family took. My memories of slave days was my easiest days. Slavery

was pleasant for me. My owner's wife was named Ann. The son was Gummel

L. Harrison. I went with him to war. I was his servant in the

battle-field till we fought at Gettysburg and Manassas Gap. Then I was

captured at Bulls Gap and brought to Knoxville, Tennessee and made a

soldier. I was in the War three and one half years. They had us going to

school. They had Yankee teachers in the army. All the schooling I ever

got. I was mustered out at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"My parents was Julia Ann Hodge and Cairo Hodge. I don't know my

mother's last owners. When I was about eight years old I was sold to Ben

Cowen. When I was thirteen years old I was sold to Master Anderson

Harrison. My brothers Sam and Washington never were sold. Me and Sam

Hodge, my brother, was in the War together. We struck up and knowed one

another. A man bought mama that lived at Selma, Alabama. I never seen

her ag'in to know her. After I was mustered out I went to Birmingham

where she was drove and sold in search of her. I heard she was taken to

Selma. I went there. I give out hunting for her. It was about dusk. I

saw a woman standing in the door. I asked her to tell me where I could

stay. She said, 'You can stay here tonight.' I went in, hung my overcoat

up. I started to the saloon. I met her husband with a basket on his arm

coming home. I told him who I was. We went to get a drink. I offered him

sherry but he took whiskey. I got a pint of brandy, two apples, two

oranges, for his wife and two little boys. I spent two nights there and

two and a half days there, with my own mother but neither of us knew it


"Fourteen years later Wash wrote to me giving me the address. I told him

about this and he said it was mama. He told her about it. She jumped up

and shouted and fell dead. I never seen her but that one time after I

was sold the first time. I was about eight years old then. She had

eighteen of us boys and one girl, Diana, and then the half-brothers I

seen at Selma. I had eleven brothers took off in a drove at one time and

sold. They was older than I was. I don't know what become of them. I

never seen my papa after I was sold. Diana died in Knoxville, Tennessee

after freedom. I seen better times in slavery than I've ever seen since

but I don't believe in slave traffic--that being sold.

"I was with my young master till my capture. That was my part in

freedom. I was forced to fight by the Yankees then in the Union army. I

was with General Grant when Lee surrendered at Appomattox. That was

freedom. After the War I come to Arkansas and settled at Madison. My

hardships started. I got married the first thing.

"This is how good my owners was to me. He sent me to Hendersonville,

North Carolina (Henderson?) to learn to fiddle. I was so afraid of the

old colored teacher I learned in a month about all he could play. I

played for parties in eight states in slavery. All up in the North. They

trained children to dance then. I took Martha Jane, Easter Ann, Jane

Daniel, my young mistresses and their mother's sisters, Emma and Laura,

to parties and dances all time. We went to Ashville, North Carolina to a

big party. While they was having fine victuals after the dance they sent

me out a plate of turnip greens and turnips, fat meat and corn bread. I

took it and set it down. When Miss Martha Jane got in sight I took her

to our carriage. She said, 'Empty it to the dogs,' and give me one

dollar fifty cents and told me to go to town and buy my supper. I was

treated same as kin folks. I et and drunk same as they had to use. After

freedom I fixed up twice to move back to my young master. Once he sent

me three hundred fifty dollars to move on. Betty fell off the porch and

broke her thigh. That ended my hopes of going back. Betty was my first

wife. I had seven children by her and one by my second wife and this

wife ain't had none. She's been married twice though.

"I got one boy in Virginia seventy-three years old and one boy

sixty-eight years old. My boys are scattered. One lives here. I don't

hear from them now.

"After the War I come to Madison. It was a thriving little river town

surrounded on all sides by wilderness. There were thousands of Indians

camped in the neighboring woods. There was nothing but wooded hills

where Forrest City now stands.

"When General Nathan Bedford Forrest built the cut between Forrest City

and Madison for the road, I was his cook and the first fireman to make

the run through the cut. I used to drive a stagecoach over the Old

Military Road through Pine Tree on the stage run from Memphis to Little


"Game was the nicest thing the country afforded. I killed bear and other

wild game on sites where Marianna, Wynn, and Jonesboro now stand. Where

this house now is was a lake then. (West part of town on north side of

the railroad track.) They caught fish in it then.

"When I heard Benjamin Harrison had been elected President of the United

States, I asked Mr. George Lewis to write to him for me. I was working

for him then. I handled freight at the depot for him. He was dubious of

me knowing such a person but wrote it to please me. A few weeks a reply

come to our letter and a ticket.

"I got my fiddle and went and visited two weeks. I et at the same table

with the President. I slept in the White House. We et out of skillets

together when I was a little boy and drunk out of the same cups. Me and

him and Gummel raised up together. I played for the President and his


"Twice more I went and it cost me nothing. I played for big balls. My

young master sent me my gold name plate. (It is heart shaped with his

name, birth and birthplace--ed.) I been wearing it on my watch chain a

long time. It is my charm. Mr. Lewis was so glad when I got my letter

and ticket. He was good to me.

"I have voted. I voted a Republican ticket because it hope the party out

that freed my race. Some white men told me they burnt up a lot of our

votes. I never seen it done. I can't see to fool with voting.

"The colored folks are seeing a worse time now than in slavery times.

There is two sides to it. The Bible say they get weaker and wiser. I did

read before I got blind. I get a Federal pension of one hundred dollars

a month. I'm thankful for it."

Interviewer's Comment

He has trouble talking. One lung is affected. He is deaf. He is blind.

He said he was wounded caused his lung trouble. Seems to me old age. He

isn't very feeble in the house. Their house was clean and he and his

wife, also born in slavery, looked clean.

William Green William Hamilton facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail